The Bundesliga’s Underrated XI

It’s a fact of modern football that many fans are exposed mostly to big clubs and only get up-to-date with the minnows when those minnows face daunting tasks against the giants. To illustrate the point, though some might say Wolfsburg hardly counts as a “minnow” these days, we look to the season restart. Dieter Hecking’s side were flying high in the Hinrunde, but it wasn’t before their famous win against the record champions that fans (and agents?) everywhere really took notice of Kevin De Bruyne and company.

Luckily for the less-celebrated sides, hipsters come to the rescue. Although some would say a basic characteristic of a “hipster” is to shout like they have been following a team through the bad times when they rise to fame, there surely are people whose footballing debate doesn’t revolve around whether Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo is the world’s best player. In tribute to the real Bundesliga hipsters, I compiled the best XI underrated players of the 2014-15 campaign. Today’s hipster fodder, tomorrow’s stars.

Of course, there is no room for big names in such a list, as it would then be too mainstream, making this probably the first Bundesliga dream team to not include a single player from Bayern München.

Goalkeeper

Diego Benaglio (VFL Wolfsburg)

FC Augsburg keeper Marwin Hitz was able to lift Bundesliga fans from their seats when he became only the third keeper in the league’s history to score a goal in an open play, and Gladbach’s Yann Sommer has raised gained attention by reigning at the top of the shots-to-save ratio rankings, putting him in the company, of course, of world champion Manuel Neuer. Yet it would be a crime to leave Wolfsburg’s no-nonsense skipper from this list.

Benaglio retired from Swiss international duty in the wake of last summer’s World Cup, but continues to perform at the top level for the Wolves and has been instrumental in their spectacular season. Having been part of the surprise title-winning side under Felix Magath, Benaglio has every right to dream about another title before retirement from club football with an equally ambitious Wolfsburg side.

Defenders

Martin Stranzl (Borussia Mönchengladbach)

If you’re expecting nationalmannschaft regulars Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng on top of the successful tacklers list this season, you should be introduced to ‘Gladbach’s rock at the back, Martin Stranzl.

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the contrasting Bayern results (or playing style) while Ribéry and Robben are not available. In the case of die Fohlen, the Austrian is the one player Lucien Favre cannot afford to lose for any amount of time. At 34, Stranzl would seem well into the twilight of his career, but the Champions League hopefuls fortunately convinced him to stay around for another season beyond the current one.

Ömer Toprak (Bayer Leverkusen)

He might not have had the best of evenings in the crucial second-leg Champions League round-of-16 tie in Madrid, not least with a helping hand in the horrifying penalty-kick shootout for die Werkself, but overall the Turkish international is improving his game with time.

His former coach at Freiburg, Robin Dutt, brought Toprak with him when he became coach of  Leverkusen in 2011, and the tall defender hasn’t looked back since. He has certainly benefited from playing alongside a natural leader in Emir Spahić since the start of last season, and many believe that Toprak is the most-underrated defender in the league.

Jonas Hector (1. FC Köln)

The left-back position in the national team has been up for grabs for a long time, with Joachim Löw not ranking Marcel Schmelzer high despite the Dortmund fullback’s consistent showing in Jurgen Klopp’s side. With the versatile Phillip Lahm retiring post-World Cup, the concern is getting even bigger.

That’s when Hector come into the picture, as Löw starting to notice the magnificent form the diminutive fullback has been plying for the Cathedral City side. With his fine form in recent back-to-back outings against Australia and Georgia, Hector promises to be the solution for the long-standing problem of the World Champions.

Vieirinha (Wolfsburg)

The Portuguese wizard is in a great form this season, despite struggling with an injury at the season’s start and playing out of his favorite position. Sebastian Jung’s transfer from Eintracht Frankfurt promised a lot, but it is Vieirinha who is enjoying life at right fullback for a successful Wolfsburg side at the moment. Kevin De Bruyne is the undisputed assist provider of the Green-Whites, but Vieirinha’s perfectly weighted passes have also been a constant source of goals, helping Wolfsburg continue to compete in both the DFB Cup and Europa League.

Midfielders:

Johannes Geis (1. FSV Mainz)

Under Thomas Tuchel, Mainz were never short of up-and-coming players. The club continues to follow the same emphasis on developing  players in the post-Tuchel’s era, with the likes of Pablo De Blasis and Yunus Mallı becoming key figures in the side’s attacking play this season. Johannes Geis is the other player who has been a regular fixture in the midfield, as the youngster showing a great deal of progress throughout the season. Not only his free-kicks becomes lethal, but the former Greuther Fürth player is now shouldering much responsibility in the middle of the park to lift M05 from the sight of relegation.

Alban Meha (SC Paderborn)

The Albanian spend almost the entire first quarter of the season on the sidelines with a long-serving injury, but as was expected, he didn’t find it difficult to find a starting berth on his return. Widely known for his outrageous skill in taking long-range free-kicks both for both country and club, Meha is an exciting player to watch for both Paderborn supporters and neutrals. The promoted side have been unable to continue the fine play that they started with in the early weeks of the season and currently face an uphill task of avoiding relegation. They have only found the net in one match since the Winterpause, in which Meha netted a customary free-kick in an emphatic win over fellow strugglers Hannover.

Tobias Werner (FC Augsburg)

The new Paraguayan international Raúl Bobadilla is probably the player of the hour at the Bavarians, but if there is one man from Augsburg camp who should be in the mix for the list of underrated player in the Bundesliga, it’s the amazing Tobi Werner. Granted, he doesn’t have Zinedine Zidane’s skill with the ball, but the bald winger’s willingness to cover every inch of the pitch makes him a true team player. In Augsburg’s early days at the Bundesliga, Sascha Mölders was the undeniable fan favorite, but just like he surpassed the old-fashioned striker in the club’s top scorer list in top flight, Werner is fast becoming the face of Augsburg’s rise to the top half of the Bundesliga.

Timo Werner (VFB Stuttgart)

For any young player, going through a rough patch with a relegation-threatened side could well turn out to be too much of a responsibility. Werner was hailed by many when he rose to prominence last season after not even making the cut in the club’s roster at the start of the campaign, but the honeymoon time is well over by now, as the Swabians expect fireworks from the young kid to secure their illustrious status in the top-flight football. By no means has Werner been performing poorly, but he has been unable to be the savior for the cellar-dwellers currently, which should not eclipse the fact that he has a bright career ahead of him.

Fin Bartels (Werder Bremen)

Right before entertaining the much-troubled Borussia Dortmund side in the final match of last year, Bremen were doomed by many as one of the favorites for relegation. But five matchdays into the new year, they had the luxury of dreaming about an European return, much thanks to an incredible six games winning streak under Viktor Skrypnyk. The likes of Zlatko Junuzović and Franco Di Santo may dominate the headlines, but summer signing Fin Bartels’ immediate effect at the club shouldn’t be underestimated either. After a decent time with St. Pauli in the Bundesliga three years ago, Bartels stayed true for the side from Hamburg, before he timed his move away to perfection and now is playing an integral part in Bremen.

Striker:

Anthony Ujah (1. FC Köln)

Known for his (in)famous goal celebration involving the club’s mascot Hennes (who happens to be a goat), Ujah is currently the go to guy in Köln. The promoted side are not so prolific in front of goal, but they would have found themselves in the bottom three without the goals of the celebrated Nigerian striker. Deyverson’s loan signing in the winter break further played to the hands of Ujah, as the duo formed a good understanding in the attacking front. After finding it tough to break into Mainz’s starting line up early in his Germany career, there is no doubt Ujah is currently in a good shape, and he just need to take a lesson or two from current league’s top scorer Alex Meier to raise his game to another level.

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Eskender born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Despite the geographical differences, he's interested in every detail of German football, if not any kind of football. Wolfsburg's industrious away win at Hamburg started his Bundesliga obsession back in 2005. You can also follow him on Twitter @eskeBMG

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